It's not news to anybody that a referee can be the difference between a win and a loss in the NFL.
One bad call can dictate the outcome of a game. One lapse in judgment that, upon further review, doesn't show sufficient evidence that it can be overturned can rob a team of a win it deserves.
At the end of the season, that one loss—and, by extension, that one call—can serve as the difference between a playoff berth and an early start to the offseason.
That's what makes the NFL's replacement referees such a concern, especially considering the uproar surrounding the behavior of Brian Stropolo.
The replacement ref is now under league review after being removed from his duties prior to Sunday's matchup between the New Orleans Saints and the Carolina Panthers, according to ESPN.com.
Per the same report, Stropolo was removed for two primary reasons: First, judging by the content of his Facebook page (which has since been taken down), he appears to be a hardcore Saints fan. Second, he violated league policy by publicly revealing Sunday's game assignment.
The latter offense is a problem, mostly because it's not that difficult to follow rules. The former offense is infuriating because it makes you wonder where the league found these people.
You can claim to be objective all you want, but if I were a referee in a Patriots-Jets matchup, I would see things differently than a referee who has no affinity for either team. I would probably see egregious hits on Tom Brady that, in actuality, were perfectly legal; I would see pass interference in favor of Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd where it didn't really exist.
That's the way any fan of any team views the game, and it's why I would make a terrible ref: Fans view any call with a bias toward their own favorite teams. Fans' perspectives are tainted by their personal, long-established affiliations with teams they have grown to love. And the problem is, the NFL was about to let one of those fans call a game in which his team—his affiliation—was going to be on the field.
It would be almost funny that the NFL has hired fans to call games if it wasn't so ridiculously maddening.
This Stropolo scandal is the NFL's worst nightmare because it makes this replacement referee situation look like a joke. It kind of is a joke. The league is putting games, seasons and postseason aspirations in jeopardy by employing people like Stropolo, who don't even have the common sense to hide their fandom online in the days leading up to a game.
If this guy couldn't even find a way to a) follow a few simple rules and b) be a little more covert about his affinity for the Saints, how did the league expect him to competently call a game?
There's no good solution to this. There's no way the league is going to put the 2012 season in jeopardy because of a contract disagreement with the regular refs.
Even though, when you think about it, they're doing just that by employing people like Stropolo.
It's time to end the contract dispute. The NFL screwed up, and this disaster has now blown up into a national news story. Now, it's on them to fix their mistake and bring back the guys who actually know what they're doing before this gets worse.
Find a way to pay the people who are competent enough to do the job. Clearly, they are needed.